The Enriched Landscape:  Sculpture and Ornamentation

Annual Meeting of the Association of Gardens Trusts, Harrogate, Sept 2004

The annual meeting of the Association of Gardens Trusts took place in the handsome Yorkshire town of Harrogate, which is very well endowed with parks and gardens.  Indeed the venue hotel for the meeting, backed onto the Valley Gardens, which is a municipal garden listed Grade II.

The theme of the meeting, sponsored by Haddenstone, was statuary in the gardens, and there were lectures and garden visits to illustrate that theme.  Since the gardens visited all had lead statues, we heard about their history and manufacture, as well as problems of maintenance and repair.  Many of these pieces originated in the 18th century as souvenirs of the Grand Tour when they were copied from casts of famous Greek and Roman masterpieces.  Apparently, it was the fashion then to paint such statues white to resemble the marble originals.

The first garden visited was Castle Howard, familiar as the backdrop to ‘Brideshead Revisited’, with impressive arrays of statuary and magnificent buildings by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor.  It is a huge estate – the avenue is five miles long – so that it was only possible to tour a limited area of the gardens.  Included was Ray Wood, where 18th-century plans show a wilderness with meandering, maze-like paths carefully planned so that each turn revealed a special monument, cascade, or statue; sadly, none of these remains, but the path structure is still visible, and many notable trees are planted.  The one surviving feature, a large, water-filled circular basin, contains a central monument with fantastic carvings of aquatic creatures round the base.  This reservoir, at the highest point of the grounds, provides the head of water to power the magnificent water features designed by Nesfield at the front of the house.  The famous ‘Atlas’ fountain was originally the centrepiece of one of his elaborate parterres, but is now replaced by a simpler design.  Below the terrace, which runs from the front of the house to the various temples and monuments, another Nesfield fountain rises from the centre of the South Lake.  Water flows from this lake down a cascade and waterfall and under a Palladian bridge, thus creating a classic landscape dominated by the 18th-century mausoleum.

South Lake, Nesfield's fountain and the Mausoleum

South Lake, Nesfield’s fountain and the Mausoleum

castlehoward2A large walled garden, entered by the Satyr Gate, and separated from the formal parterre by a double lime avenue, was started in the early 18th century, and was well known in that century for the profusion of fruit grown on heated, double-walls and in hot houses.  It has a charming period gardeners’ house at its centre and a bothy behind the walls.  During the last century, it became very overgrown and neglected, but three of the inner gardens are converted into rose gardens, one dedicated to old-fashioned roses.

The remaining inner gardens are now returning to more traditional uses and the aim is to produce organic fruit and vegetables.

On the return journey from Castle Howard, we visited the exquisite, small garden of the Priory House at Nun Monkton.  The house, dated from about 1650 and situated next to the Norman church, is at the end of a single-road village and is partly surrounded by water.  A pavilion at the end of the lawn is sited on a bend in the River Nidd at its confluence with the River Ouse.  There are white-painted, lead statues here, but, unlike the classical figures at Castle Howard, these are largely pastoral in nature.  They are raised up on stone pedestals between the lawn and rose borders nearer the house.  Behind the house, an unthreatening Mars and Mercury guard the water gate leading into a charming sunken garden with a decorative canal.  Near this garden, a huge, but delicately leafed tree with white pea-like flowers had all the visiting gardeners trying to name it – it turned out to be the oldest and largest specimen of Sophora japonica in the country.

The Water Garden at the Priory House

The Water Garden at the Priory House

The following day’s excursion was to another garden at a bend in a river, this time the River Ure.  Newby Hall, a handsome late 17th-century house, had very extensive, formal gardens in the18th century, and Victorian parterres in the 19th century.  However, the present garden really dates from 1921; the magnificent layout that we see today is the result of the activities of three generations of the Compton family.  Still existing near the house, are formal terraces with balustrades echoing those on the house, and a stone surrounded pool with a central statue of ‘Wood Nymph’.  From this terrace the view to the river is framed by double herbaceous borders and separated by a wide lawn. However, these features represent the most formal part of the garden, the rest being made up of a number of smaller, enclosed gardens, the design of which was much influenced by Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote.  A sinuous path connects these small gardens that are separated from each other by various special trees, archways with swags of wisteria or laburnum and many climbing roses. Each garden has its own character; one a water garden with gunneras and bog plants, an ilex garden, a cornus garden housing the n.c.c.p.g. National Collection, and another with plants collected by Wilson and named after him.  A rather more formal, paved garden, known as the Autumn Garden, has fine collections of salvias and hydrangeas.  Robin Compton is a great plantsman and there is much to admire in these gardens.  There are also sculptures throughout, but unlike the other gardens many of these are modern – indeed the garden is host to an annual display of modern sculpture; a particularly appealing specimen in the old walled garden, was a sleeping boar carved from a huge lump of pink granite

Each of these three gardens was splendid in its own way, and each was very different to a Cornish garden!

Alison A Newton